Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Deadline for Phase 2 General Distribution Funding Extended

UPDATE: The deadline to apply for Phase 2 General Distribution Funding has been extended to September 13, 2020.

On July 20, 2020, HHS issued a public notice about forthcoming reporting requirements for certain providers that accepted one or more payments exceeding $10,000 in the aggregate funding from the Provider Relief Fund program. The reporting notice initially advised recipients that additional details regarding data elements would be provided by August 17, 2020. HRSA is continuing to refine its data elements and will provide those additional details at a date later than August 17, 2020. Providers will still be given the detailed PRF reporting instructions and a data collection template with the necessary data elements they will be asked to submit well in advance of the reporting system being made available – which is currently targeted for October 1, 2020. Providers should continue to check this website for the latest updates.

Trump Administration Launches National Training Program to Strengthen Nursing Home Infection Control Practices

New training provides education on critical safety measures to keep residents safe

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is implementing a national nursing home training program for frontline nursing home staff and nursing home management. The training is designed to equip both frontline caregivers and their management with the knowledge they need to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in their nursing homes. The training announced today will be available immediately to staff of America’s 15,400 Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes and focuses on critical topics like infection control and prevention, appropriate screening of visitors, effective cohorting of residents, safe admission and transfer of residents, and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – all critical elements of stopping the spread of COVID-19.  President Trump first announced the training in late July as part of the Trump Administration’s commitment to the safety of American seniors living in nursing homes.

Full press release

Health Care Survey for People with Disabilities in Rural Pennsylvania

If you are a person with a disability, or a family member/caregiver of someone with a disability, please take 15 minutes and tell the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) about your experience with the healthcare system. Your answers will help shed light on how the healthcare system is working or not working for people with disabilities in rural areas and how healthcare has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals with a disability and their family members/caregivers living in rural areas of Pennsylvania who complete this survey and participate in a follow up phone interview may be eligible to receive a stipend in the form of a $50 gift card.

Click here to take the survey.

USPHS Chief Dental Officer Newsletter & Healthy People 2030

The 51st issue of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Chief Dental Officer Newsletter features an article about the launch of Healthy People 2030. There is information and links to all of the Healthy People 2030 objectives related to oral health. The newsletter also includes COVID-related news bites, non-COVID news, a list of upcoming events, and information about Immunization Awareness Month.

Click here to read the issue.

Reminder! 2020 Assister Certification Training on the Marketplace Learning Management System (MLMS) “Go-Dark”

As CMS prepares to release the 2021 Assister Certification Training, the 2020 Assister Certification Training that is hosted on the Marketplace Learning Management System (MLMS), will be taken offline at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Friday, August 28, 2020.  During this “go-dark” period, assisters will not be able to access the certification training.  We anticipate that the 2021 Assister Certification Training will be available later this summer.

Assisters who need to take the current training before the 2021 training is available should complete the 2020 Assister Certification training prior to its removal on Friday, August 28th.

Please note: this is training for assisters in the Federally-facilitated Marketplace, and assisters in State-based Marketplace  or State-based Marketplace using the Federal platform should follow their state’s training and certification requirements.

With No Congressional Solution in Sight, Pennsylvania Applies for Federal Lost Wages Assistance Funds

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf directed the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) to submit an application today for President Trump’s temporary Lost Wages Assistance grant funds to provide an additional $300 per week in supplemental payments to some Pennsylvanians receiving unemployment benefits.

“By failing to put out of work Americans first and extending the extra $600 per week federal benefit that ended in July, Congressional Republicans are forcing our hand to apply for these funds,” said Governor Wolf. “The president’s convoluted, short-term program, which will likely only provide payments for five or six weeks, will pay those who are eligible only half as much as before and will make 30,000 Pennsylvanians ineligible to continue receiving an additional weekly benefit.

“There is still time for Congressional Republicans to pass a good and practical solution that simply extends the extra weekly benefit, and I urge them to act now. As I have said before and will continue to say, the extra $600 per week was the lifeline Pennsylvania families needed to get by. They deserve better.”

Last week, the Governor sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation reaffirming his support for an extension of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. With Senate Republicans failing to pass a bill continuing FPUC, President Trump on August 8 authorized the Lost Wages Assistance plan.

The president’s plan is not a true unemployment insurance program and is, instead, funded by $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that is intended for storm disaster relief. Because of this very important distinction, payments to eligible workers will be delayed while states, including Pennsylvania, create a new computer system.

If approved, L&I will use this grant funding to provide an additional $300 per week in assistance payments to people receiving unemployment compensation benefits due to COVID-19-related impacts.

In order to qualify for the extra $300, eligible individuals must receive at least $100 per week in regular Unemployment Compensation (UC); Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); Extended Benefits (EB); Short-Time Compensation (STC) or Shared Work; and Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA) and must self-certify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Payments will be made to eligible claimants retroactively from August 1, 2020. The payment could end in a matter of weeks if FEMA funding is exhausted or the federal government enacts a new law or extends FPUC to replace the Lost Wages Assistance payment. It will end no later than December 27, 2020.

The FPUC program, funded entirely by the federal government, ended on July 25. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to continue the benefit, but the Senate has yet to approve its extension.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture: $13.6 Million Remains Available for Pennsylvania Dairy Industry, Farmers Urged to Apply for Relief

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding visited the Scattered Acres Dairy Farm in Reading, one of Pennsylvania’s many dairy farms that had to dump milk as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on dairy markets in the commonwealth. On the farm, Secretary Redding revealed that nearly $13.5 million of the $15 million CARES Act-funded Dairy Indemnity Program was still available for farmers to claim in direct relief payments.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the early days, we saw Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers face devastating losses. Hard work, sweat, and tears went – quite literally – down the drain,” said Secretary Redding. “We all saw it, the legislature recognized it, and we met it with a $15 million direct relief payment program. Don’t leave this money on the table – apply today and receive $1,500. It’s that easy.”

Any dairy farm that experienced financial losses due to discarded or displaced milk during the COVID-19 emergency disaster may apply for assistance. In addition to farms directly affected, farms that did not have displaced milk but have had COVID-19-related fees assessed on their milk check may also apply. Each farm with a documented loss will receive a minimum of $1,500 and can apply for an additional prorated share of the remaining funds, not to exceed the actual amount assessed by the handler. The deadline to apply for the Dairy Indemnity Program is September 30, 2020.

“At the height of the pandemic in Pennsylvania, many of our dairy farmers were forced to dump milk,” said state Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Democratic chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “In addition to the emotional toll of literally pouring your product down the drain, our farmers have faced serious financial ramifications. I encourage every dairy farmer to take a look at this program.”

Currently, only 900 farms have applied for the $1,500 in direct relief, leaving more than $13.6 million to be claimed. Pennsylvania is home to nearly 7,000 dairy farms with an economic impact of $12.6 million and more than 52,000 jobs. The commonwealth’s more than 500,000 cows produce more than 10.2 billion pounds of milk annually, ranking Pennsylvania seventh in the nation for total milk production.

“Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is so very grateful for the recognition and leadership of the state legislature and Governor Wolf of the importance of utilizing federal funds in this manner assisting Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers to remain economically viable in this time of unprecedented challenges throughout the entire industry,” said Joel Rotz of the PA Farm Bureau. “It is important to understand these dollars don’t stop at the farm gate. They are immediately reinvested into local businesses that are critical to maintaining our rural communities.”

CMS COVID-19 Stakeholder Engagement Calls

CMS hosts varied recurring stakeholder engagement sessions to share information related to the agency’s response to COVID-19. These sessions are open to members of the healthcare community and are intended to provide updates, share best practices among peers, and offer attendees an opportunity to ask questions of CMS and other subject matter experts.

Call details are below. Conference lines are limited so we highly encourage you to join via audio webcast, either on your computer or smartphone web browser. You are welcome to share this invitation with your colleagues and professional networks. These calls are not intended for the press.

Calls recordings and transcripts are posted on the CMS podcast page at:

CMS COVID-19 Office Hours Calls (twice a month on Tuesday at 5:00 – 6:00 PM Eastern)

Office Hour Calls provide an opportunity for hospitals, health systems, and providers to ask questions of agency officials regarding CMS’s temporary actions that empower local hospitals and healthcare systems to:

  • Increase Hospital Capacity – CMS Hospitals Without Walls;
  • Rapidly Expand the Healthcare Workforce;
  • Put Patients Over Paperwork; and
  • Further Promote Telehealth in Medicare

Office Hours:

Tuesday, August 25th at 5:00 – 6:00 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 8579003

Audio Webcast link:


Weekly COVID-19 Care Site-Specific Calls

CMS hosts weekly calls for certain types of organizations to provide targeted updates on the agency’s latest COVID-19 guidance. One to two leaders in the field also share best practices with their peers. There is an opportunity to ask questions of presenters if time allows.

Home Health and Hospice (twice a month on Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern)

Tuesday, August 25th at 3:00 – 3:30 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial-In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 6782346 Audio Webcast Link:


Nursing Homes (twice a month on Wednesday at 4:30 PM Eastern)

Wednesday, August 26th 4:30 – 5:00 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial-In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 5718509 Audio Webcast Link:


Dialysis Organizations (twice a month on Wednesday at 5:30 PM Eastern)

Wednesday, August 26th at 5:30 – 6:00 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial-In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 1834329 Audio Webcast Link:


Nurses (twice a month on Thursday at 3:00 PM Eastern)

Thursday, August 27th at 3:00 – 3:30 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial-In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 1556623 Audio Webcast Link:


Lessons from the Front Lines: COVID-19 (twice a month on Friday at 12:30 – 2:00 PM Eastern)

Lessons from the Front Lines calls are a joint effort between CMS Administrator Seema Verma, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, and the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Physicians and other clinicians are invited to share their experience, ideas, strategies, and insights with one another related to their COVID-19 response. There is an opportunity to ask questions of presenters.

Next Lessons from the Front Lines:

Friday, September 4th at 12:30 – 2:00 PM Eastern

Toll Free Attendee Dial-In: 833-614-0820; Access Passcode: 3374248

Audio Webcast Link:


For the most current information including call schedule changes, please click here

To keep up with the important work the White House Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19 click here: For information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

HRSA Urges Pharma To Continue 340B Discounts At Contract Pharmacies

The Health Resources and Services Administration tells Inside Health Policy that drug makers that curb 340B discounts at contract pharmacies might prevent vulnerable people from getting affordable drugs and the agency is encouraging drug makers to continue the discounts — but it cautions the agency can only take enforcement action if there is a violation of the statute.

America’s Essential Hospitals is the latest group to call on HRSA and HHS to step in and stop recent moves by drug makers to require providers share claims data in order in order to access 340B discounts through contract pharmacies. Following related moves by a handful of other key drug makers, AstraZeneca recently told providers it plans to end 340B pricing for contract pharmacies, with few exceptions.

HRSA tells IHP it is looking into the manufacturer’s announcement, and that contract pharmacies are vital to 340B providers. The agency “strongly encourages all manufacturers to sell 340B priced drugs to covered entities through contract pharmacy arrangements,” HRSA says.

“Manufacturers that refuse to honor contract pharmacy orders may be significantly limiting access to 340B discounted drugs for many underserved and vulnerable populations. Many of these populations may reside in geographically isolated areas and rely on contract pharmacies as a critical point of access for obtaining their prescriptions,” HRSA says.

However, the agency notes that it has limited authority to enforce 340B guidance — unless there is a violation of statute.

“Without comprehensive regulatory authority, HRSA is unable to develop enforceable policy to ensure clarity in program requirements across all the interdependent aspects of the 340B Program, although HRSA is still considering this matter as raised by the actions of these manufacturers,” HRSA says.

Prior to AstraZeneca’s announcement, Sanofi told 340B providers they need to share claims data for 340B drugs dispensed through contract pharmacies or the drug manufacturer will stop shipping the discounted drugs to those pharmacies. Merck Sharpe & Dohme Corp. also told 340B providers it wants them to share contract pharmacy claims data for Merck products, or the drug maker may take other program integrity steps that are less collaborative with the providers and more burdensome to them. Also, as of July 1, Lilly limited the distribution of three formulations of the erectile disfunction drug Cialis at 340B prices to providers in the 340B program and their child sites — and will not extend the ceiling price to contract pharmacies.

HRSA previously told IHP it was working to understand Merck’s and Sanofi’s plans.

While HRSA did not explicitly tell IHP whether the drug makers’ actions violate the statute, Maureen Testoni, president and CEO of 340B Health, alleged they do. Testoni said 340B Health believes there is a strong, statutory basis for enforcement action from HRSA, but if agency doesn’t act then 340B Health would consider using the courts to compel HRSA to step in.

The statute says manufacturers have to offer 340B prices to covered entities; it doesn’t say manufacturers can avoid offering the discounts if they don’t like the way covered entities are obtaining them, such as though contract pharmacies, Testoni told IHP. The group, along with others in a 340B coalition, laid out reasoning behind why they want HRSA to step in to stop Lilly and Merck in a July 16 letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

America’s Essential Hospitals on Tuesday (Aug. 18) increased the pressure on HHS.

“Recent actions by pharmaceutical manufacturers hinder access to affordable medications for millions of people who face financial hardships and defy clear statutory requirements that they provide drugs to 340B Drug Pricing Program covered entities,” said Bruce Siegel, president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals, in a statement.

Siegel alleged the data requests from manufacturers have no clear link to program integrity and “seem to be little more than a fishing expedition.” The federal government already has safeguard in place to avoid duplicate discounts, Siegel said.

CMS earlier this year said there was a need to avoid duplicate discounts between 340B and Medicaid. The agency suggested that states could use state plan amendments to keep some — or all — providers and contract pharmacies from using 340B drugs for Medicaid beneficiaries. However, there are no statutory prohibitions on Medicare or commercial duplicate discounts, and Siegel said data requests in those areas are particularly concerning.

“We call on the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene and put an end to these unwarranted manufacturer requests,” Siegel said. — Michelle M. Stein (